The Importance of Breathing Well
Insights with Dr Rosalba Courtney (Osteopath)
We can go for a few weeks without food, a few days without water, but only a few minutes without breathing, before we die. Breath and breathing are so important to us.
Unstress Health's advisory panel member Dr Rosalba Courtney, is an osteopath with over 30 years of clinical practice. She wanted to identify the key piece of advice to help her patients improve their health.
To find the answer she did a PhD on dysfunctional breathing and discovered that there is a lot more to breathing than simply the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Dr Rosalba Courtney shares her insights below...
Breathing is one of the major regulators of pH or acidity and alkalinity in the body. The lungs work in combination with the kidneys to regulate the body's pH level.
Keeping the pH in the body at an optimal level is essential for all metabolic activity. It helps to create the ideal environment for chemical reactions to run their path smoothly.
A lot of people are aware of having an unbalanced pH level is a problem and try to fix it with the food they eat or drinking alkaline water. These measures may be beneficial, but how does breathing correct pH?
When we are under pressure and feeling stressed, the body is stimulated to increase the breathing rate to increase its ventilation.
Dr Rosalba explains:
if you increase your ventilation too much over a too long period of time, your body ends up being depleted in bicarbonate.
What happens when you over breathe, you exhale lots of carbon dioxide, making your body more acidic. Your kidneys are then stimulated to secrete bicarbonate, an alkaline, to neutralise the acid.
If your stress goes on unchecked and you continue to over breathe, you eventually lose the ability to secrete bicarbonate.
This is where the problem comes in because now, you find yourself with a chronic cellular acidity that your body cannot balance.
This results in the inside of the cells becoming acidic. When this happens, energy production becomes sluggish, and your health is affected in many different ways.
Apart from the acidity, when your body excretes all of this extra bicarbonate, it takes other minerals with it – magnesium, potassium and sodium – which may result in a deficiency in these very important substances. On a biochemical level, dysfunctional breathing has far reaching effects.
Going a step further, over breathing also has an impact on how much oxygen your body receives from each breath. It becomes difficult for red blood cells to release the oxygen to the cells where it is required, resulting in less oxygen being available to the cells.
This combined with the acidity level within the cell leads to a range of health problems.
What are the functions of healthy breathing?
The question we need to ask before we find out more about dysfunctional breathing is:
What is well balanced breathing?
Dr Rosalba's definition of functional breathing is:
Functional breathing is breathing that performs its primary and secondary functions and it is efficient, adaptive, appropriate, and responsive.
The primary functions of breathing are related to the pumping action and include:
Breathing also interacts with lots of other systems in the body. These would be the secondary functions;
Breathing is really at the center of the body function because almost every system in the body influences breathing; but breathing also influences lots of other systems in the body – the digestive system, the lymphatic system, the circulatory system, the body's blood pressure regulating system and so on.
In my interview with Rosalba - it got me thinking how breathing is really about regulation, it's regulating our body chemistry, it's providing us with a filtration system if we're doing it well, it's providing us with an internal massage system through our diaphragm if we're doing it well.
But it's not just about regulation, it's about building resilience.
It's empowering to take control of your own health, to build physical, mental and emotional resilience to deal with the stresses of life - all through our breathing which is just so fundamental.
Dive deeper into understanding why breathing well is SO important.